Schwartz: Mike Bossy was something special

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Tuesday night, when the video tribute and moment of silence for Mike Bossy was over and the lights came back on, Islanders forward Mat Barzal could feel the emotion of the fans at UBS Arena.

“It was pretty special,” said Barzal. “I looked back into the crowd after the video was done and I saw some tears coming down a couple of faces.”

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I can identify, as a prior commitment meant I could not be there, but my emotions came through while watching the ceremony on television.

Mike Bossy, the Islanders’ Hall of Fame right wing and my favorite professional athlete ever, passed away this past Friday at the age of 65, following a battle with cancer. Tuesday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers was the Isles’ first home game since Mike’s passing, and it was an opportunity for so many fans to come together to celebrate the life and the accomplishments of arguably the greatest pure goal scorer in NHL history.

If you were an Islanders fan like me, one who grew up with the team in the 1970’s and into the Stanley Cup dynasty of the early 1980’s, you understand just how great and how special Bossy was. It’s easy to point out the 573 career regular season goals, the nine straight 50 goal seasons, the dramatic 50 goals in 50 games, and the 1982 Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs – but Bossy’s career was about more than just the numbers.

He was brilliant. He could score from just about anywhere on the ice. He had confidence but wasn’t cocky. He was “The Boss.”

And the Islanders organization did a wonderful job with the ceremony.

“It was very well done,” said Head Coach Barry Trotz. “It touched all of his accomplishments. Having some of the footage of Mike just speaking, not necessarily scoring goals, but his speaking on what his values were. I thought that was extremely touching and I think it had an emotional response to anybody who had watched Mike play or had come in contact with him over the years.”

At the risk of being just a bit unprofessional as I write this story, I need to share a few stories about Mike Bossy and just how much he meant to me as a young fan, and also getting to meet him a few times after his career was over.

In the early 80’s, it wasn’t as easy for a fan to get a jersey of his favorite team or player as it is today.  There wasn’t a team store at Nassau Coliseum, and there certainly wasn’t anything like Fanatics, so there were only a few places where you could buy an Islanders jersey. My parents bought me my first Islanders jersey at the Roosevelt Raceway flea market. It didn’t have a name and number, but we took it to a local mom and pop sporting goods store and it was there where “BOSSY 22” was sewn on the jersey.

When Bossy’s 22 was retired in 1992, his was in town for an extended period of time and participated in a legends game. It was that day, many years after my parents bought me that jersey, that he signed it for me. I had the jersey with me on Saturday night when I did radio play-by-play for the New York Riptide lacrosse team at Nassau Coliseum, and I wanted to do something special to honor Bossy so when I sat down at my seat at the broadcast location – so I placed the jersey over the front of the press box.

From 1985 to 1989, I was a student at Buffalo State College, working for my college radio station. One year when I was home on a break, the Islanders were gracious enough to give me a press credential for a game. That night was the first time that I met Bossy in person.

When I went into the locker room after the game, there he was, just sitting by himself. He didn’t really do anything in that game so the other reporters went to other players – but I wanted to speak to Bossy and he couldn’t have been nicer to a young reporter who was as nervous as can be but did his best to hold those emotions in check.

About 20 years later, Bossy was doing some front office work for the Islanders at the same time that I was the radio voice of the Arena Football League’s New York Dragons, a team that was also owned by then Islanders owner Charles Wang. I was on the field for pre-game warmups at Nassau Coliseum when walking out from the tunnel was Bossy, who just happened to be in the building that day. I needed a halftime guest for my broadcast and asked Bossy if he would tape an interview with me for a few minutes.

“You should know that I know nothing about Arena Football,” he said.

“Believe me, I’m not going to ask you anything about Arena Football,” was my response.

Bossy did the interview with me and he was great. After the interview was over, he stood next to me for a few minutes of the warmups and actually asked me some questions about the Dragons and Arena Football.

Are you kidding me?

I certainly wasn’t the only fan that has these types of feelings about Bossy. His play on the ice spoke for itself, but he was a Hall of Fame person as well and did many community events.

For all of Islanders Country, especially those old enough to have seen him do his thing, that ceremony on Tuesday night was a must-see.

“It was emotional for anybody who watched Mike play or had interaction with Mike,” said Trotz.

“Obviously, there were a lot of people in the building that saw him play live and saw him win (on) Long Island,” said Barzal. “You could see by the sounds of it that he was a pretty special human and a special player, so an amazing tribute by our organization.”

This has been a tough year for the Islanders organization in more ways than one. Sure, not making the playoffs is a huge disappointment for the franchise and the fan base, but there were also the deaths of former players Clark Gillies, Jean Potvin, and now Mike Bossy.

It's hard to put into words just how much Mike Bossy meant to me and so many other Islanders fans. It was an honor and a privilege to watch him play, and I thank him for a million memories that he created for me and so many others that share in the emotions that I’ve felt over the last few days.

My deepest condolences go out to Mike Bossy’s family and friends. He was a great player and a great man and he will be missed.

Follow Peter Schwartz on Twitter: @SchwartzSports

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